Izaya almost missed the black smoked windowed car and walked past it. It was only until it began to slowly following him that he noticed it. Right away a black window rolled down and Shiki appeared before him. Very cool and collected. If Izaya ever got into the habit of wearing suits, he would most definitely asked Shiki for tips.
"It's been difficult to get a hold of yourself recently."
"I am all yours now."
So Shiki was aware that something was up with Izaya. Apparently this insanity with Shizuo was taking its toll on Izaya's professional life. Of all the people to meet when he was still shaken, Shiki was one of the very worst. It sobered him up immediately, as a shower of icy water on smoldering anger. They were in front of Izaya's house which was good, an accidental meeting with Shiki meant that the Awakusu were keeping tabs on him. Still Shiki could very well call him on the phone instead of meeting in person. Izaya was cautious as he ushered him to the plushest sofa.
"It would be inconvenient if you were to move. I like knowing where to find you."
"Luckily I love my home and have no intention of moving."
Shiki was very aware of this. He recognized the design furniture from his office but he knew that Izaya would be hard pressed to admit any influence. Young people tended to be that way. Especially nowadays. Izaya offered him a cup of excellent green tea served in small traditional cups as Shiki liked.
"My services are highly requested."
Throughout the years Shiki had met many informants and knew that they all meant trouble. Orihara Izaya was not the exception. In fact, he was the epitome of trouble-making and had proven more than once that he could stir a scene. Izaya was a liability. A very useful one but Shiki was not sure if Izaya knew that his escape from being lynched by the Awakusu group had been a very narrow one and due to Shiki's influence. Shiki had decided that Izaya was worth keeping around for the time being. Like Shizuo he suspected that it would not last much longer.
"Got anything to do with the money you've been tracking?"
Izaya nodded. He was not one to hold anyone as an idol or to pay homage to anyone in particular but there was nothing false about his admiration for Shiki. It went as far as letting Shiki always have the first and last words.
"It's proving harder than I thought."
Izaya would cut to the chase with anyone else but not so with Shiki. He was eager for an actual business assignment to take his mind off spurious matters.
"Are you taking a break?"
Izaya almost started. Holidays were a luxury that he could not afford. They both knew it.
"Not at all. I am in the active as ever."
"You don't seem be at the top of your game."
Izaya was of course a kid. A gutsy clever kid but a kid for all that. Shiki did not go as far as to consider him as a protégée but he had an interest in Izaya. With Izaya the stakes were always ridiculously high. Shiki dismissed the excessive smiling and affected attitude and Izaya returned the favor in kind by being at his best behavior. Ever since stepping into Shiki's office when he was still not out of his teens, Izaya had adopted a serious demeanor whenever dealing with the man. Shiki remembered very well. Plenty of punks tried their luck with the Awakusu only to end up falling prey to one mishap or another but Izaya was a whole thing altogether. From the start Izaya had a smooth quality to him that made him seem older despite the fact that he had not aged a day since Shiki first met him and even then he looked considerably younger.
You might not know Orihara Izaya but Orihara Izaya was bound to know you. Such a vast network of contacts was highly profitable if you knew how to employ it and Shiki knew just how to do that. He was a bit sad that the time was running out on Izaya.
"I assure you that I am as competent as ever."
Izaya was troubled. Having to state the obvious hinted at pitfalls in his professional conduct. Shiki tossed a few flashy papers on the low table.
"Why don't you take a break after all? Go on a trip. Okinawa, all expenses paid. There's the tickets. Bring someone you like."
Izaya wondered if he was being fired.
"Do you want me to leave town?"
"Just unwind a bit. You've been tense lately."
In other words, shape up and shape up now. Izaya wondered if this was an offer to check in at Hotel Hilbert in which case all rooms were already full but there was sure to be room for him and whoever he chose to take with him. He almost asked but thought better of it at the last moment. A sense of depression filled him. There were always strings attached and picture perfect beach resorts were as much a place of exile as any other place that was not Tokyo. Shiki might as well have given him an oyster to drive the matter home.
"I will consider your offer."
Rejecting Shiki on any grounds was not very prudent but accepting him without at least pretending to have a choice on the matter exposed weakness. Shiki got up to indicate that there was nothing further to discuss.
He studied the layout of the living room anew without having to look around. There was an impersonal quality to it, very much like Izaya himself as far as Shiki could tell. Orihara Izaya came across almost as an abstract entity of sorts, an aggregation of quick intelligence and ruthless intent behind which the individual disappeared. It was not just that the living room was remarkably akin to an office, the bedroom was every bit as stripped of human warmth. Shiki had been in this chamber a few times and noticed the lack of photographs despite other pressing needs.
"You do that."
Izaya saw him to the door. On his way to the headquarters Shiki corrected his idea of Izaya. There was something highly personal and purely irrational to Izaya and that was his feud with Heiwajima Shizuo. And that ultimately made all the difference.
Izaya stared listlessly at the tickets for quite a while. Two weeks. Not a long time at all but more than enough for his absence to be noticed. He could always pull a Mikado and control things from a distance but Izaya's power required him to be seen. And unlike Tsukumoya Shinichi Izaya had a limit to the information he could gauge online. The wilderness of electrically transmitted rumor needed to be weeded out on the field with research. Without actual confirmation Izaya was reduced to hearsay.
Speculation was his enemy all around. Very soon the city would be filled with rumors concerning his disappearance. Odds were that most people would believe him to be injured which was not what he wanted. Izaya liked to give the impression that he could not actually be harmed. Illusions were part of the craft. Weakness reflected poorly on his abilities. He went to the extent of being treated by Shinra when need be, simply because Shinra would keep his mouth shut.
Izaya had toyed with the idea of spreading tall tales about his death only to prove them wrong with a flourish but he was saving that for a rainy day. He sighed deeply and sank into the swivel chair. He had moved the tickets to the desk so that he could meditate on his favorite seat with a reminder in front of his eyes. The desire to spin around was nil. He would have to rely on Kida for updates. Kida was the more reliable source in these circumstances but he was known to be selective in what he told Izaya. Overtly lying was not something Kida dared do but not telling all that he knew was a different matter altogether. Also, Kida's personal situation made him easy to manipulate but it also assured that he was highly stressed and too wrapped up to be much use.
Izaya produced his chess board and placed a few pieces on it. Control of his own person was temporarily forfeited so he redoubled his control on others even if only symbolically. He considered Aoba instead of Kida for a whole five seconds. It was one of his personal laws that the more someone was like Orihara Izaya the less trust Orihara Izaya placed on them. He chuckled.
"My, by the same token the person I should trust the most is…good old Shizu-chan!"
"The money wasn't fake."
Kadota could tell that Izaya was upset. In an attempt at cheering him up he only made things worse:
"Did Shizuo throw something at you again? Don't worry his girlfriend will talk some sense into him."
Once Kadota became convinced of a theory he stuck to it as if it was the absolute truth and not flimsy conjecture. Normally it amused Izaya. Currently it did not.
"By the way, I'm giving a hot pot party this Saturday. You're invited."
Kadota flinched, flailed and flailed some more.
"Oh, thanks, that's great of you but me and the guys have something planned already. Sorry."
The apologetic smile annoyed Izaya immensely. There was of course no party but everything was going so wrong already that his need for hurting himself propelled him on.
"I see. I'll move it to Sunday, then. And Erika and the lot are invited as well."
Kadota turned a shade paler. He balanced his weight on one leg then the other, scratched his head through his beanie.
"Sunday, they have this anime event and we're all going. It's like, a yearly thing so they can't miss it. Sorry. We'll do a party next time."
"Okay. Name a date. Right now."
Kadota started violently and actually stuttered.
"Er, as in, now? I don't know, I need to ask them-"
"Just forget the whole thing. If you don't want to go then say it. I can spot a liar a mile off, Dotachin. And you suck as a liar."
"It's not like that, I mean-"
"Do you know who is behind Dollars? I'll let you know."
Curiosity won him over.
"Oh yes. Come closer."
Kadota hesitated slightly. Izaya considered stealing the crime fashion of a beanie and introduce it to his switchblade.
"The person who is behind Dollars is…Yagiri Namie."
"I knew it."
Izaya nodded solemnly. It was too easy but he was not quite done yet.
"More, she really liked it when people figure it out. I'm not sure if I should give you her number-"
"Come on now, it's not as if I'm some suspicious guy…"
Izaya pretended to be in two minds about it.
"Okay, I suppose. But I'm doing you a favor because we've known each other so long. And you know, despite what people say she's a kind-hearted woman. So make sure you call her 'Namie-chan'. Truth is, she resents having to be so formal for her job so she likes it when people see the real Yagiri Namie."
"I see. That makes sense."
It was also sheer fabrication.
"One more thing, don't tell her I was the one who gave you the number. Make it look like you found out yourself. She likes men with some initiative. Neh?"
Izaya winked. There was a bitter edge to sweet revenge but he was sure Namie would deal with Dotachin most exemplarily. It served him just right.